Lon Chaney - the first of the great actors

In some ways, it’s only appropriate.  The first great actor should come out of the horror genre.  After all, the horror genre was the first great collection of films.  And it wasn’t just American films, either.  In fact, two of the best films of the silent era were German horror films – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu.  Then the genius seemed to travel across the Atlantic (literally, in the case of Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau) and great horror films began to bloom in the States.  At the forefront of that was Lon Chaney, one of the great actors in film history.  He also became one of the first great losses to film history when he died at the age of 47 of lung cancer in 1930, 81 years ago today.

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Laurence Olivier as Hamlet (1948)

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet (1948)

Laurence Olivier

  • Born: 1907
  • Died: 1989
  • Rank: 60
  • Score: 560.00
  • Awards: none for directing but countless for acting
  • Nominations: Oscar (just one for directing – 11 overall and two honorary awards)
  • Feature Films: 5
  • Best: Henry V
  • Worst: The Prince and the Showgirl

Films (in rank order):

  1. Henry V – 1944
  2. Hamlet – 1948
  3. Richard III – 1955
  4. Three Sisters – 1970
  5. The Prince and the Showgirl – 1957

Top 10 Best Director finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1946 – 6th – Henry V
  • 1948 – 2nd – Hamlet
  • 1956 – 5th – Richard III

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Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper and Tom Hanks all have two Oscars. Neither Richard Burton or Orson Welles won an acting Oscar. They seemed to like the underplaying.

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Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight (1965)

“Welles never approached such posterity again, although ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958) is a fine example of the then-fading film noir genre.”
Steve Persall ST. PETERSBURG TIMES (as syndicated in the San Diego Union Tribune)

First of all, when you’ve just explained that Citizen Kane is widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, obviously he never approached such posterity again. Neither did anyone else. That’s kind of the point. But in Persall’s article, he dismisses Welles among other directors that “once were giants.” What that misses is that Welles may have been forced out of the studio system, but he hardly failed to continue to be a giant (fat jokes not withstanding). (more…)

For Your Consideration - Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor (The Dark Knight)

For Your Consideration - Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor (The Dark Knight)

Preparing this list I never had any doubt who would come out on top. My question was, given the way I was ranking the characters, by how much of a margin would he come out on top? The answer was: a healthy one.

The interesting thing about this list is that even though Marvel has been considered the more “in” company for a long time, the more adult, and has had considerable success on film this decade (and it’s fair share of colossal failures), it’s DC who has done a better job with the villains. As Marvel cements its brand on-screen in the next couple of years with Iron Man and Hulk sequals and Captain America, Thor and Avengers films, it will be nice if they can get the villains right.

Anyway, to create this list, I used a 1-10 scale in five categories: Interesting, Evil, Intelligence, Fidelity to the Comic Book and Performance. So the point totals are out of 50.

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I met him about two years ago. He and Joanne Woodward came into the store on a Friday night. They were very nice. When they went to the register our cashier noticed his card wasn’t signed (good job, Milo!), then asked him for ID because she didn’t know who he was (you’re embarrassing me, Milo!), which was made worse two minutes later after they had left and another cashier, said “You know, from the salad dressing!” (I’m gonna kill you, Rebecca).

I reduce so much in life to a point system. My point system on actors is based on how good a performance is, weighted slightly higher for a lead. Among male actors, he is fourth all-time, behind Nicholson, De Niro and Hoffman. He is so high, both for his amazing ability and for his longevity. I had him as the third best actor of the sixties (behind Richard Burton and Sidney Poitier), but also the fifth best actor of the eighties (behind Nicholson, William Hurt, Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Caine).

He made 55 films. I have seen 34 of them. He was always good. Usually brilliant. The best follows.

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Akira Kurosawa directing Toshiro Mifune on The Bad Sleep Well

Akira Kurosawa directing Toshiro Mifune on The Bad Sleep Well

You always hear the names linked together: John Ford and John Wayne, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder. But who really are the best combinations in film history. What are the DVD box sets that really should be released? I’m glad you asked. I have the answers.

The first thing that may surprise you (because it surprised me) is which combinations get left off the top 10 list. My list depends only partially on the number of films they made together, and much more on the quality of acting that came out of the films. Robert Redford made a lot of films with Sydney Pollack, but wasn’t all that great in several of them (not on the list). Diane Keaton was great in Annie Hall, but not as memorable in the other Woody Allen films she’s in (not on the list). Hitchcock had a lot of great actors, but none who stuck around long enough. Jimmy Stewart is always thought of with Frank Capra, but he did two great performances (Life and Mr. Smith) and that was pretty much it. And the Ford/Wayne combo doesn’t make the list, because as I said, it’s the strength of the acting. Make your own conclusions.

Now, here’s the list: (more…)

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in Chinatown (1974)

So at the end of a long weekend, we have the final Top 10 Acting Post: The 10 Best Performances by an Actor in a Leading Role.

It’s been a surprising weekend, as our blog has had far more hits this week than ever before, so we appreciate everyone who comes by to read this. We hope you find it interesting.

I will continue the 100 Best Novels list later this week, but here, for now, is Best Actor: (more…)

Five miles, with the last mile all up hill, with a 12 pound child seat and a 39 pound child. But Thomas and I went for our first bike ride together yesterday. There will be pictures later.

For the moment, I’m interrupting my top 100 novels to break in with another film list, continuing the acting lists with the Top 10 Performances by an Actress in a Leading Role. The fascinating thing about this, is that even though it is “common knowledge” that women don’t get good roles as they age and men do, the average age on this list is a good five years older than the forthcoming Best Actor list. While the Actors have three on the list who are 30 or younger and only one over the age of 48, the Actress list has three who are over 50 and the youngest is 32. Anyway, here’s the list, once again in chronological order. (more…)


After heading into town to watch the Rolling Victory Parade of the World Champion Boston Celtics (17 titles – eat it Lakers fans! – that means you, family members), Thomas and I stopped to get something to eat at a little market / deli. After we had eaten and left, we got about twenty feet before I realized that Thomas had stolen an avocado. I walked him back in and had him put it back. Luckily, no one even noticed.

On to Best Supporting Actor – my top 10, once again, of alltime, listed chronologically.

1942 – Claude Rains as Captain Renault in Casablanca

“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”

1948 – Walter Huston as Howard in Treasure of the Sierra Madre

“I know what gold does to men’s souls.”

1951 – Karl Malden as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell in A Streetcar Named Desire

 

Malden with Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Malden with Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire.

“No, you’re not clean enough to bring into the house with my mother.”

 

1972 – Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

“My father assured him either his signature or his brains would be on the release.”

1988 – Kevin Kline as Otto in A Fish Called Wanda

“Apes don’t read philosophy.”

1989 – Denzel Washington as Trip in Glory

“I ain’t fightin this war for you, sir.”

1993 – Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List

“I forgive you.” (possibly the most disturbing line in film history)

1994 – Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood

Ed: Why are you buying a coffin, Mr Lugosi?”

Bela: Because I’m planning on dying soon.

1996 – William H Macy as Jerry Lundergaard in Fargo

“Right now! Darn tootin!”

2001 – Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Arnor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You shall not pass!”

Huston, Malden, Kline, Washington and Landau all won the Oscar. The other five were all nominated. This was a harder one to do. I spent five minutes staring at the screen before I could bring myself to delete Gene Hackman in Unforgiven.

Streetcar will probably end up on all four acting lists. It truly is the pinnacle of film acting. But these 10 are all so diverse. We have cynicism (Rains), wisdom (Huston), naivety (Malden), not the mention the purest example of evil on screen (Fiennes). We also have the ultimate stupid person (Kline). And McKellen’s performance is the most brilliant when he doesn’t speak. He has several phenomenal reaction scenes (when Bilbo reaches for the Ring, when Frodo mentions there is writing, when he touches the Palantir, when Elrond refuses to let the Ring stay in Rivendell, when Frodo agrees to the take the Ring).